Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Call of the Wild

The Call of the WildThe Call of the Wild by Jack London
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The first time I read this I was probably in grade school, and I was captured by the spirit of Buck, the dog who survived being kidnapped, beaten, and abused to eventually break free and "run with the wolves" in Alaska. I was aware of the abuse by men but somehow all I focused on was Buck and his ability to survive. (And it was MEN who abused him - the only woman in the book was a sniveling spoiled brat, typical of London's idea of women.) Reading this as an adult, all I could see was the cruelty of almost every man Buck encounters. It was terribly hard to read, at times, because of the severe abuse. I just kept picturing one of our dogs in the same situation, and nearly wept with the thought of it.

The main theme of the book is the inherent wild nature of dogs (and man) and we see Buck transformed from a pampered house pet to the ruler of the wild as leader of a wolf pack. It is through the privations and abuse that Buck learns who he really is (a wolf in dog's clothing, as it were) and we are led to believe that Buck is finally fulfilling his destiny, once he breaks free of men and becomes the leader of a wolf pack. Clearly, this is London's view of what it means to be a "real man" as well: breaking free of the pampering and strictures of city life and conquering one's fears and one's enemies. It is a very "alpha wolf" view of life; to succeed, one must subdue all adversaries - there is no compromise. I found it very tiresome, and almost comical, if it weren't for the horrible cruelty. Only one man, his last owner, treats Buck with kindness, and their relationship is nicely portrayed. But still, Buck heeds "the call of the wild" and leaves his loving master to be killed. (Of course, Buck takes vengeance on those who killed him, like any "real man" would!)

I suppose this book is worth reading as an example of the "macho" literature of the era. At least it's short, and London does write well. But I don't know if I'd even recommend it to children anymore, given the extreme abuse of dogs it portrays.

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